TIME photography

Celebrating 80 Years of Associated Press’ Wirephoto

Exactly 80 years ago today, on Jan. 1, 1935, the Associated Press sent its very first photograph over the organization’s brand new Wirephoto service: an aerial photo of a plane crash in upstate New York. The photo was delivered across the country to 47 newspapers in 25 states.

In an article published that day in The Bulletin newspaper, AP president Frank B. Noyes named each of the papers that had opted into the service saying, “These are the pioneers of wirephoto, which outstrips other messengers in conveying the news in pictures just as, a century ago, the telegraph came to outstrip the carrier pigeon and the pony express, and, a little more than a generation ago, the typewriter relegated the stylus to oblivion.”

Photos up to that point were largely delivered by mail, train or airplane, taking up to 85 hours in transit. AP Wirephoto could transmit a photo in minutes.

The first AP Wirephoto with original caption affixed: The wreckage of a small plane lies in a wooded area near Morehousville, N.Y., on Dec. 31, 1934. AP

AT&T had made a previous attempt at their own photo wire service. In 1926, the telephone company had succeeded in setting up eight sending and receiving centers across the nation, which AP and other outlets had put to use. It was, however, a hugely expensive endeavor for the company and its users; after spending over $3m dollars with comparatively small returns, the service was shut down in 1933.

Before AT&T closed down its service, AP General Manager Kent Cooper had made it his mission to develop such a service in house. “KC was the father of the AP Newsphoto Service,” former AP executive photo editor Al Resch was quoted as saying in the company magazine The AP World in 1969. “He was deeply dedicated to the proposition that the day’s news should be just as thoroughly and competently covered in pictures as in words.”

Cooper prevailed, despite hefty internal opposition (the service posed a threat to Hearst and Scripps-Howard, AP member organizations that owned competing photo services) and under the spectre of the Great Depression. The story is well documented in AP’s annual report for 1934: “After discussion it was voted that Mr. Howard be informed that the Board and Executive Committee would be glad to confer with representatives of the Scripps-Howard and Hearst member newspapers, on the basis that the Board was always willing to consider any problem affecting its members and in which there was any mutuality of interest.”

Photographer Bill Allen uses the trunk of his car as a darkroom to develop film coverage of a 1938 Virginia mine explosion. Associated Press Corporate Archives

The system was comprised of three main elements: transmitters, receivers, and 10,000 miles of leased telephone lines – the wires. The transmitters required first a print – AP photographers would either send in their film to be developed and printed at an AP darkroom, or develop and print it themselves using portable darkrooms. At that time, they worked mainly with Speed Graphic cameras and 4×5 film.

Once the print was made and ready to be sent, it would be wrapped around a cylinder on the transmitter. At the push of a button, the cylinder, which could hold up to 11 x 17-inch prints, would spin at one hundred revolutions per minute underneath an optical scanner. The optical scanner would shine a very thin beam of light onto the spinning print, which would then reflect light back into a photoelectric cell, which, in turn, would translate the reflections of light and dark tones into signals that would be carried across the wires.

The receiver on the other end had a similar spinning cylinder with a negative on it. As the transmission came in, the signals would be converted back into light, which was then recorded onto the negative, reproducing the original image.

AP stationed a network monitor in their New York bureau to control the sending and receiving of images. It was his job to listen to daily offerings from the member papers who would call in descriptions of the best images each outlet had to send, and then to decide which of those photos would be transmitted to which member papers at what time. Each transmission could take from 10 to 17 minutes depending on the size of the print, so the network monitor’s challenge was to decide, within the time constraints of a given day, which photos the world would see. See a dramatization of this process in the video below.

A man carries AP’s portable WirePhoto transmitter. AP

Over the next 20 years, AP Wirephoto technology would be continually streamlined as the network grew. By 1936, AP technicians had made available portable transmitters that came in two 40-pound suitcases. They were bulky and required trained technicians to run them. By the end of 1937, the stationary transmitters and receivers at the AP bureaus and newspapers were replaced with ones that were smaller, lighter, and could be plugged into a wall socket instead of taking power from a wet cell battery. By 1939, the portable transmitters were made more compact and AP had 35 units ready for use. Color transmissions, which took three times as long as black and white due to color separation, became available that same year.

Picture quality on the receiving end was continually improved and fine tuned. More newspapers signed on for the service, the network continued to enlarge. As America entered WWII, the demand for pictures – and for picture delivery – forced advances in Radiophoto transmissions. Wirephoto had also transmitted maps and charts from its inception, but these became especially valuable during war time.

Postwar, the transmitters and receivers became yet again smaller, picture quality and transmission of tonality improved, and AP developed receivers that were capable of producing positives as well as negatives, again cutting down time-to-market. By 1951, over 20,000 pictures were transmitted via Wirephoto annually.

By 1963, North America and Europe were connected via a leased circuit. In the same time period, as AP began its historic coverage of the Vietnam war, its photographers were making the transition from shooting 4×5 and 120mm film to 35mm film.

Between the 1960s and the 90s there were three major leaps in technology, ultimately leading to digital transmission. The first big jump was the establishment of the Electronic Darkroom in 1978 which digitized the signals coming through on the wires. It featured computers that could crop, tone, and sharpen images as they came through. It was in a way an early, crude version of Photoshop. Operators could receive an image, edit it, and send it back out to the network without the added delay of developing a negative or making prints.

Promotional brochure announcing the AP Leafax 35, a picture transmitter that requires only a negative to transmit photographic images. 1988
Promotional brochure announcing the AP Leafax 35, a picture transmitter that requires only a negative to transmit photographic images, from 1988. Associated Press Corporate Archives

Negative scanning was the next push forward in the mid-80s with AP’s procurement of the Leafax, a compact and portable picture transmitter held in a briefcase-sized case. AP photographers could take color or black-and-white negatives, scan them into the Leafax, tone, sharpen, crop and add captions, then send them through to the network. With the exception of developing film, the Leafax eliminated darkroom work and printmaking for photographers and again cut the amount of time it took for the picture to travel from the camera to the news consumer.

President George H. W. Bush raises his hand as he takes the oath of office as President of the United States outside the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989, Washington, D.C. Ron Edmonds—AP

“That was the first step,” Hal Buell, AP’s former head of photography, tells TIME. “The next thing was to set up a digital network which we called Photostream.” Photostream was announced in 1989, and offered all digital transmission via satellite. It reduced transmission time from 10 minutes to 60 seconds, and offered a method of delivering higher quality color pictures. AP supplied every U.S. newspaper with a Leafdesk to receive the new digital transmissions.

“We had to send a representative into every newspaper in the U.S. that took photos and show them how the digital system worked with incoming wire pictures,” says Buell. “We put these desks in every newspaper, and that not only changed the way AP handled pictures, but it changed the way newspapers handled pictures.”

AP’s first digital news photo was made and transmitted earlier in 1989 at George H.W. Bush’s inauguration by Ron Edmonds using a Nikon QV-1000c. The advent of ever more powerful computers and laptops, portable satellites, improvements in image compression, and the lightning fast evolution of digital cameras, now with possibility of in-camera transmission and video, has continued to accelerate and increase AP’s delivery of images from the late 1990s to the present. Whereas in 1951 the service transmitted 22,000 images annually, AP now transmits over 3,000 images daily.

In that early 1935 Bulletin article, Noyes touched on something that was, and continues to be, essential to the news: speed, the need for which has driven the evolution of communication technology to this day. This may seem self-evident; however, as these technologies have evolved, they directly affect how news is created and how it is digested, and thus, in very profound, sometimes imperceptible ways, how we conceive of the world around us.

The launch of AP’s Photowire service initiated just that sort of weighty paradigm shift. “From Jan. 1, 1935 on, you could say that as far as the news goes, the visual had become newsworthy and capable of carrying the news, of being news,” Valerie Komor, Director of AP’s Corporate Archives, tells TIME. “Photography could be news.”

Photography is now indeed news, as is, increasingly, video. If we think of the way in which we – as news consumers – receive and read news images today, the experience feels instantaneous. Our understanding of the world is a constant, and rapid distillation of an ever increasing number of images spread over innumerable platforms. We are offered ever more perspectives, and a wealth of information. The responsibility now often falls on the reader to pace their intake of information.

“In the same way that a story can be read at the viewer’s leisure, a photograph can be contemplated at the viewer’s leisure,” says Santiago Lyon, the Vice President and Director of Photography at AP. “You are able to consider it and you’re able to have an opinion about it. And the discerning viewer won’t just look at a photograph, they’ll read a photograph, and they’ll look at all of the details in the picture and they’ll notice things and they’ll spend some time looking at a picture.”

TIME royals

Will and Kate Visit 9/11 Museum

US-BRITAIN-ROYALS
The Duchess Of Cambridge (C) lays a wreath for 9/11 victims next to the Duke of Cambridge while the royal couple pause for reflection in the Memorial Plaza at ground zero in New York City on December 9, 2014. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez—AFP/Getty Images

It was pouring rain, but that didn't stop them

On a foul and rainy Tuesday morning, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited New York’s 9/11 museum to pay tribute to those who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Will and Kate paused to look at the panel honoring victims of Flight 93 before the Duchess placed a bouquet of flowers over the names of the victims. The royal couple also spent a moment reflecting in front of one of the tridents from Tower One before their 20-minute tour of the museum. The Duchess, who is five months pregnant, wore a pink coat by Mulberry over a dress by Seraphim.

MORE: What happened on twitter when Beyoncé and Jay Z met Will and Kate

Last night, the British royal couple met American royalty Beyoncé and Jay Z at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where they watched the Brooklyn Nets play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cavaliers star LeBron James, also known as King James, was also there.

TIME psychology

Extraterrestrials on a Comet Are Faking Climate Change. Or Something

Just to be clear: This is a comet, not a spacecraft
Just to be clear: This is a comet, not a spacecraft ESA

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Conspiracy theories never die, but that doesn't mean we can't get smarter about dealing with them

You’ve surely heard the exciting news that the European Space Agency successfully landed a small spacecraft on the surface of Comet 67P—or perhaps we should say “Comet 67P.” Because what you probably haven’t heard is that the ostensible comet is actually a spacecraft, that it has a transmitting tower and other artificial structures on its surface, and that the mission was actually launched to respond to a radio greeting from aliens that NASA received 20 years ago.

Really, you can read it here in UFO Sightings Daily, and even watch a video that seals the deal if you have any doubt.

None of this should come as a surprise to you if you’ve been following the news. Area 51, for example? Crawling with extraterrestrials. The Apollo moon landings? Faked—because it makes so much more sense that aliens would travel millions of light years to visit New Mexico than that humans could go a couple hundred thousand miles to visit the moon. As for climate change, vaccines and the JFK assassination? Hoax, autism and grassy knoll—in that order.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new. If the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and the myriad libels hurled at myriad out-groups over the long course of history indicate anything, it’s that nonsense knows no era. The 21st century alone has seen the rise—but, alas, not the final fall—of the birthers and the truthers and pop-up groups that seize on any emerging disease (Bird flu! SARS! Ebola!) as an agent of destruction being sneaked across the border from, of course, Mexico, because… um, immigration.

The problem with conspiracy theories is not just that they’re often racist, foster cynicism and erode the collective intellect of any culture. It’s also that they can have real-world consequences. If you believe the fiction about vaccines causing autism, you will be less inclined to vaccinate your kids—exposing them and the community at large to disease. If you believe climate change is a hoax, you just might become the new chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, as James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma soon will be, thanks to the GOP’s big wins on Nov. 4.

That’s the same James Inhofe who once said, It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence… In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” It’s the same James Inhofe too who wrote the 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. So, not good.

Clinical studies of conspiracy theory psychology have proliferated along with the theories themselves, and the top-line conclusions the investigators have reached make intuitive sense: People who feel powerless are more inclined to believe in malevolent institutions manipulating the truth than people who feel more of what psychologists call “agency,” or a sense of control over their own affairs.

That’s why the CIA, the media, the government and the vaguely defined “elite” are so often pointed to as the source of all problems. That’s why the lone gunman is a far less satisfying explanation for a killing than a vast web of plotters weaving a vast web of lies. (The powerlessness explanation admittedly does not account for an Inhofe—though in his case, Oklahoma’s huge fossil fuel industry may be all the explanation you need.)

Psychologist Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London is increasingly seen as the leader of the conspiracy psychology field, and he’s been at it for a while. As long ago as 2009, he published a study looking at the belief system of the self-styled truthers—the people who claim that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by the U.S. government as a casus belli for global war.

He found that people who subscribed to that idea also tested high for political cynicism, defiance of authority and agreeableness (one of the Big Five personality traits, which also include extraversion, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism). Agreeableness sounds, well, pleasantly agreeable, but it can also be just a short hop to gullible.

In 2012, Swami conducted another study among Malaysians who believe in a popular national conspiracy theory about Jewish plans for world domination. Swami found that Malaysians conspiracists were likelier to hold anti-Israeli attitudes—which is no surprise—and to have racists feelings toward the Chinese, which is a little less expected, except that if there were ever a large, growing power around which to build conspiracy theories, it’s China, especially in the corner of the world in which Malaysia finds itself.

The antisemitic Malaysians also tended to score higher on measures of right-wing authoritarianism and social domination—which is a feature of almost all persecution of out-groups. More important—as other studies have shown—they were likelier to believe in conspiracy theories in general, meaning that the cause-effect sequence here may be a particular temperament looking for any appealing conspiracy, as opposed to a particular conspiracy appealing to any old temperament. People who purchased Jewish domination also liked climate change hoaxes.

Finally, as with so many things, the Internet has been both potentiator and vector for conspiracy fictions. Time was, you needed a misinformed town crier or a person-to-person whispering campaign to get a good rumor started. Now the fabrications spread instantly, and your search engine lets you set your filter for your conspiracy of choice.

None of this excuses willful numbskullery. And none of it excuses our indulgence in the sugar buzz of a sensational fib over the extra few minutes it would take find out the truth. If you don’t have those minutes, that’s why they invented Snopes.com. And if you don’t have time even for that? Well, maybe that should tell you something.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME National Security

Revealed: The Navy SEAL Who Killed bin Laden

Former SEALs preemptively revealed his name in protest of his decision to come forward

The identity of the Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden was a closely held secret until Thursday, when a site operated by former SEALs disclosed his name.

Robert O’Neill, a 38-year-old Montana native, was planning to reveal that he killed bin Laden in the May 2011 raid next week in interviews with Fox News and the Washington Post. But the former SEALs released his name in protest of his decision to come forward.

Read more at the Washington Post

Read next: Former Navy SEAL Who Wrote Bin Laden Raid Book Under Investigation

TIME cities

One World Trade Center Opens Its Doors

One World Trade Center
New York Financial Center at dusk Siegfried Layda—Getty Images

The 1,776-ft. building is the tallest in the western hemisphere

New York City’s revival from its darkest hour 13 years ago will be completed on Monday, when One World Trade Center officially opens for business.

The western hemisphere’s new tallest building, also known as Freedom Tower, will welcome Condé Nast as its first tenant. The publishing giant is making the 20th to the 44th floors its new global headquarters.

“It’s long anticipated and we’re looking forward to it,” Condé Nast spokeswoman Patti Rockenwagner said.

See TIME’s “Top of America” interactive

The 1,776-ft. high tower was initially set to open in 2006 but became fraught with delays and political grappling. It provides a statement of hope and resurgence on the New York City skyline after the attacks of 9/11 that destroyed the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center.

“I’m like everybody else, looking at this place in amazement,” Kevin Murphy, who headed the team of ironworkers that helped piece the tower together, told TIME in March. “This is going to define New York.”

Read next: The Top of America

TIME 9/11

Woman Solves Mystery of Lost 9/11 Wedding Photo After 13 Years

Thanks to social media

For the past 13 years, Elizabeth Stringer Keefe has been trying to learn the identity of six people in a wedding photo that was uncovered in the rubble of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York City. On Friday, after years of sharing the photo on the Internet and social media, she finally got an answer.

A man named Fred Mahe, who attended the wedding and is in the photo, saw an article about Keefe’s search and sent her a LinkedIn message.

He told her that the photo was once pinned to his cubicle wall on the 77th floor of the second World Trade Center tower and — good news! — all six people in the photograph are alive and well.

“The story is Elizabeth, the story is persistence and trying to help someone she didn’t even know,” Mahe told ABC News. Mahe and Keefe have spoken on the phone and are set to meet this Monday.

Mahe has also been in touch with Christine Loredo, the bride in the photograph, who now lives in San Francisco with her husband and called the picture a “great memento of resilience.”

TIME foreign affairs

It’s a Huge Mistake to Back Rebel Groups

Mosul Iraq ISIS
Fighters from the Islamic State group parade in a commandeered Iraqi security forces armored vehicle down a main road in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq, on June 23, 2014 AP

Mark Kukis is currently working with Andrew Bacevich on a forthcoming online course called War for the Greater Middle East. It launches Sept. 24 on EdX.

By definition, rebel groups do not answer to authority

President Obama’s first moves in his newly announced campaign against ISIS should be unsettling to us all as we mark another 9/11 anniversary. The Administration has clearly signaled its intent to make Saudi Arabia a key partner in training, arming and supporting so-called moderate Syrian rebels against ISIS. This is a terrible idea and should be abandoned. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have cooperated before in supporting rebel fighters — in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And of course the most famous of those rebels was Osama bin Laden.

Saudi and American officials seeking to stand up rebel forces against ISIS appear to mean well. They do not intend to create future terrorists. But the planners of this strategy in Washington and Riyadh delude themselves about the nature of the fighters they create. American policymakers especially tend to believe that rebels trained and supported by America will respond to U.S. direction and serve U.S. interests, functioning in essence as crude but effective instruments of foreign policy. This has been the consistent belief of American policymakers since the end of WW II and has led the U.S. to support unsavory outfits ranging from the contras to the Kosovo Liberation Army.

By definition, rebel groups do not answer to authority. They tend to take whatever arms, training and funding they can get from friendly governments and pursue their own agenda. Any rebels backed by Saudi Arabia and America can be expected to do the same. True, the interests of anti-ISIS rebels align with U.S. and Saudi policy aims in the sense that all camps yearn for the downfall of the horrific regime presiding now over large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. Mutual interests likely end there, however. Rebel groups backed by Washington and Riyadh can be counted on to pursue their own aims even while they work with America and Saudi Arabia against ISIS.

What goals the rebels might have for themselves will be difficult to know. The fighters who will soon begin arriving at training camps in Saudi Arabia probably will not have a sense themselves of what the future holds beyond the fight against ISIS. But we can all be sure that nothing good will come of the effort apart from any blows these guerrillas manage to land against ISIS. This is because the region as a whole is in such turmoil. Even if the Syrian rebels depart Saudi Arabia as moderates, they will not likely remain so as they wage war in lands where extremism and instability prevail. The rebels backed by Washington against Muammar Gaddafi probably did not plan to begin fighting among themselves immediately upon the Libyan ruler’s downfall. Yet they have, plunging the country into a state of near chaos.

Rebel groups in the Middle East supported now by America and its allies in the region will undoubtedly sow something similar or worse for themselves and their government backers. Once set loose, they might become involved in terrorism, fight one another, prey on civilian populations or contribute to the next regional crisis. In fact, all those scenarios are likely courses for any such rebel groups given the environment in which they are supposed to operate. These are foreseeable outcomes of the policy now pursued by the Obama Administration and should be avoided. Saudi Arabia and other nations in the region have a role to play in confronting the menace of ISIS. But they should do so with regular military forces. Twice in recent decades Arab nations have rallied armies in unison to wage war against Israel. If Middle East nations can form a military coalition against Israel, they can do so against ISIS. And the Obama Administration should press them to do exactly that rather than creating yet more militant groups in the region.

Mark Kukis is currently working with Andrew Bacevich on a forthcoming online course called War for the Greater Middle East. It launches Sept. 24 on EdX.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: September 12

1. The long shadow of September 11th haunts our modern defense policy as well as our plan of attack against ISIS.

By Janine Davidson at the Council on Foreign Relations

2. Far from “The End of History:” Recent experience shows that democracy’s defenders have their work cut out for them. We should start by linking democratic values to our humanity.

By Timothy Stanley and Alexander Lee in the Atlantic

3. Climate change could remake agriculture. The world should diversify its crops.

By Sayed Azam-Ali in The Conversation

4. To transition from warfighting to the working world, America’s veterans need support from a broad range of government agencies. And that’s actually happening.

By Charles S. Clark in Government Executive

5. The Apple Watch will make people and computers more intimate.

By Walter Isaacson in Time

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME 9/11

Looking Up: A Photographer Captures World Trade Center Tourists

"What I wanted to do was capture peoples emotions of grief, despair, happiness, awe, longing, hoping — as many diverse emotions as there are people"

Photographer Keith Goldstein never found lower Manhattan that interesting to look at until he noticed where New Yorkers and tourists themselves were looking — up, where the new World Trade Center building towers over the city and the memory of 9/11 attacks.

“I think with this project what I wanted to do was capture peoples emotions of grief, despair, happiness, awe, longing, hoping — as many diverse emotions as there are people,” says Goldstein, who prefers to photograph the looks on bystanders’ faces without detection. To do this, he uses a small camera, often snapping his photos without even glancing through the viewfinder at his subjects.

“One would almost call it a drive-by,” he says, “except I walk by.”

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